Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 7, 2013

Grand Traverse backtracks on vehicle maintenance contract

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County’s procurement practices might need a tune-up.

A committee of Grand Traverse County commissioners voted in early June to give a three-year vehicle maintenance contract to D&W Auto, even though the business’ contract bid came in late and violated the county’s procurement policy.

The county board awarded the bid to D&W, but subsequently backtracked and ordered the bids redone after another bidder questioned the committee’s vote.

”I’m not trying to burn my bridge here,” unsuccessful bidder and Traverse City Fleet Repair owner Mark Grist said during a commission meeting. “I just thought it was unfair. I’m trying to be fair.”

The county publicly solicits bids for any contract worth more than $10,000 annually. The county procurement policy states contract bids must be submitted in a sealed envelope before a set deadline. The bids are kept secret until the deadline, then all bids are reviewed together. The policy explicitly forbids submitting bids by fax.

D&W faxed their bid to the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department, the department that oversaw the bidding process. The fax also came in after the bid deadline.

Commissioners ultimately vote on the recipient of contracts based in large part on the bidding results.

The procurement policy’s intent is to ensure fairness in the awarding of public contracts, County Administrator Dave Benda said.

Three businesses, including Fleet Repair, turned in maintenance contract bids on time. But D&W’s late, faxed bid bested all others with the lowest hourly rate and parts costs.

Grand Traverse County sheriff’s officials presented all the bids, and an explanation of D&W’s tardy entry, to the county commission so board members could decide whether to accept the late bid, Sheriff Tom Bensley said.

”We spelled it out very clearly to them so they could make the choice,” he said. “We’d be happy with either one. We’re not trying to push things one way or another.”

The commission’s Public Health & Safety Committee, which includes all board members, approved the vehicle maintenance contract for D&W.

The county spent more than $110,000 on vehicle maintenance in 2012.

Benda said it’s not common for the county to award contracts to bidders who violate the procurement policy, but county officials reserve the right to waive any “anomalies” in the bidding process.

The anomaly in this case was a fax error. Kim Moody, co-owner of D&W, said she faxed her company’s bid to the sheriff’s department before the deadline, but later learned the fax never went through. Moody resubmitted the bid by fax the day after the deadline.

The county’s written request for bids didn’t mention the fax prohibition, but it did list a deadline for submissions.

Benda said accepting the late bid did not violate the fairness of the bidding process.

Commissioners Christine Maxbauer and Charlie Renny cast the dissenting votes in the committee decision to award the contract to D&W.

Maxbauer said violating the county’s own policy is unfair and dissuades future prospective bidders.

”When you do that repeatedly other people will stop bidding,” she said. “Other businesses will stop sharpening their pencils.”

Benda said county officials need to review their procurement policy and bid request documents to prevent similar, future problems.

For now, county officials will collect new bids for the vehicle maintenance contract.

D&W has performed county vehicle maintenance for roughly 20 years, D&W co-owner Wayne Moody said. The company’s low bid for the maintenance contract included specifications that date back to 2007.

Results of the first round of bids are public, and Wayne Moody worries about his business’ chances in the second go-around, even though they received a mulligan the first time.

”Now we’re the target,” Wayne Moody said. “It kind of creates a little concern for us.”